Ms. Prosy Nabwami, Master Artisan and Weaver

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Ms. Prosy Nabwami is the current group secretary and a master artisan in the Balikyewunya Women’s Group and the district at large. She is an active mobiliser and trainer with a passion of seeing her fellow artisans develop and improve their standards of living. She also runs the group’s store/showroom in one room on her house.

The group makes a number of natural fiber based products which mainly include:

– Fruits Baskets, Hats, Placements
– Shopping Baskets
– Assorted house accents

Recently, Ms. Prosy Nabwami was one of the first recipients of our “Light Up Their Lives!” project to provide solar kits to our cooperative members in Uganda. We have put much thought into our process and will be distributing kits based on how many children they household has, followed by their level of participation in our cooperatives. Thus, based on her long-term and important level of participation as a master weaver, trainer and group secretary; coupled with the number of children in her household; Ms. Nabwami was among the first on the list.

We forwarded some questions along with the solar kit and Ms. Prosy was kind enough to take the time to reply to them. Here, then, is our (remote) interview with her:

“We are very pleased to receive the solar kit; this is a catalyst in our development” said Prosy.

1. What is the greatest advantage you will see from having this solar kit?

– Better light for everyone in my house to do their work by at least 2-3 hours in the night. During this time, our children and grandchildren will be reading their books.
– For me, I will be able to add some working hours to my craft work/ especially weaving.
– Apart from my immediate family, 6 members of the group in the neighborhood work from my home for some hours in the evening, they charge their phone during the day.

– For my children and grandchildren, they will be able to do read their books/do their school homework in better light.
-I also used to pay UGX 500 (about $0.20 US) each time I took my phone for charging and have to charge it 3 times a week; I now save this money.

2. How many people will benefit from using the solar kit?

– Six (6)members of the group who are close to my house will be able to meet at my house in the evening from 7-9pm as we work on our products.
– During the day we are able to charge our telephones at my house instead of walking a distance and paying charging fees.

3. What will you now be able to do that you couldn’t do before owning the kit?

– It was not possible to weave/ make crafts after sun set. With light of the solar kit our working time is extended.
4. How much time, energy or resources will you save because you now have a kit?

– I have been walking at a distance of ½ Km to take my phone for charging and I pay UGX. 500 ($0.20 US) per charging; It stays there for almost one full day then I collect it. In total I have walked two km and unable to receive calls when charging. With an old phone like mine, I have to charge it twice a week.

5. If you have children, how will owning the solar kit specifically make their lives easier or better?

– Reading light is far better and each individual is reached in the house. Children no longer have to gather around one kerosene lamp to read their books.
– Because of better light, they will now read their books a little longer without headaches or worries that the fuel is soon running out.
– Solar lighting is brighter than kerosene lamps. I couldn’t afford to buy several lanterns so children have to congregate around one lamp and read their book. They complain about headaches and pain in the eyes from time to time. I think over exposure to the kerosene lamps could be one of the causes.

6. What one thing do you want people who are considering making a donation to know?

– The Solar lamp is a key catalyst in development of our grassroots communities. The benefit of enabling us work longer, in better light is unmatchable.
-The initial cost of a Solar Kit is high for most people but again using kerosene lamps for light is expensive in the long term for example I use Uganda shilling 1,000 (about $0.35 US) for kerosene per night (6:30pm till 10:00pm).
– Most of us cannot afford to buy solar because the initial cost is high. We end-up using kerosene lamps but these too are expensive in the long run. I spend Uganda Shilling 1,000 per day on kerosene for one lamp, (approximately US$ 0.35).

If you want to help in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made by women like Ms Prosy over at our website. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women in Uganda that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges we will donate a part of the proceeds to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

Light Up Their Futures!

ProsyNabwamiLast autumn, we made a decision to start a new and exciting project in Uganda at the suggestion of one of our favorite people around… thank you Paul!  One of these days, we are really going to have to invite him to talk to us at the Round Table. He really is an amazing guy.

For decades now, I’ve watched as well-intentioned people trek off to Africa giving donations of things they deem important or helpful. The intention is definitely right; but the actions are often misguided and uninformed; thus rarely truly helpful in the long run. So, each year, we ask our cooperatives to tell us what we can do to make their lives easier, what projects they are working on, etc.

And at the end of 2014, we heard something that we got really enthusiastic about: solar power for our cooperative members’ homes. We’ve always known that fair and ethical trade should be tied to much more than just fair prices and working conditions. It is about a sustainable lifestyle for us and most issues are linked.

We have always understood that the way we do business might not always make sense to a “numbers guy”; but it will always resonate with someone with lots of heart. And, this is one project which did just that: it touched our hearts. Maybe donating part of our proceeds to projects like this one reduces our “bottom line”; but for us the real “bottom line” is treating people ethically and making the world just a little bit better. We’ve done so since day one and we’ll do it long into the future, with your continued support.

After some discussion, my family decided to forego most of our gift exchange last holiday season and do what we thought the season is really about: giving. We informed our friends and relatives that they wouldn’t be getting gifts this year and told them that instead, we’d be putting our Christmas shopping budget towards purchasing solar kits for some of our cooperative members in Uganda instead. The kits would allow them to work later in the evening and would give their children the chance to study once the sun went down. Of course, they all reacted with the grace and kindness we expected. A couple even decided to follow suit! To our personal donation, we added a portion of the proceeds from sales at the holiday season and here is the result:

Light Up Their Futures, the first round of lights are delivered and photos have arrived!!

Soon, we will be posting an interview with Ms. Prosy Nabwami, detailing her experience with her new solar kit and how it is already improving her life and the lives of others in her community.
We expected, due to our years of experience working with African women and their families, that there would be some extended benefits for the communities we sent the kits to; but wow! As we have known for a long time, each woman (and some men) tends to support more than just their immediate family. Generally speaking, every African breadwinner supports an average of 10 people. Those who have share, it’s a simple as that. But, we had no idea that the positive effects of a single solar kit would reach quite so many people.

Here is a quick overview of our project and we are really hoping that you will join us with a small donation to help us continue to Light Up Their Futures!

Solar kit initial cost: $120. Reoccurring costs per kit: ($5.50 for replacement bulbs (bulbs last for approximately 8-12 months) and 35 cents for replacement batteries (lasting 3-5 years each). We have invested in high quality solar kits which are expected to last 20-25 years.

Benefits we expected and are seeing:
• Safer, cheaper and cleaner burning than kerosene lamps. Simply put, more sustainable and environmentally safe
• Allows weavers, etc. to work at least 2-3 hours later each night, thus increasing potential for income
• Allows children to do homework after daylight hours, thus reducing dropout rates
• Phone charging ability reduces cost and time spent traveling to/from charging stations
• Ability to have any light at all after dark for those who couldn’t even afford kerosene lamps
• Light is easier on the eyes than the light given off by kerosene lamps
• 100% renewable source of energy without the pollution

Added benefits we are seeing that we didn’t anticipate:
• Increases sociability as women now gather in their homes with friends 7 neighbors to work using the lamps instead of working alone
• More flexibility to do housework in the evenings allowing for more free time during the daylight hours
• Increased quality in work done because solar lights are brighter and clearer than kerosene lamps previously used
• Children now have increased ability to read for pleasure because there is still light available after homework is completed
• Ability to use cell phones 2-3 days more per week
• Women no longer have to leave their old phones at charging stations 2-3 times per week
• Savings of time and effort for those who used to walk 2 miles each time they charged their phones
• Over a dozen people directly gaining from use of each kit.

For those of you who are interested, you can either donate the $120 for a kit or you can give a portion of the cost, which will then be added to the funds given by other donors. Hey, if those women can work so well together, why can’t we, right? You could get together with a dozen friends and each donate just $10. Your group of 12 people will, in essence, allow 12 Ugandan women to weave a better future for their kids who are studying by the very light you donated. Beautiful, right?

We will continue to use part of the proceeds from all online sales to fund our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

And, if you want to really help out in an even bigger way, buy a product that is made in Uganda over at our site. This is an amazing way to help us sell the baskets being woven by the very women that you are proving light to. You’ll be giving twice!  For every Ugandan basket ordered in 2015, Mama pledges to ensure that the usual donation we set aside goes directly to our Light Up Their Futures! campaign.

If your coworkers, classmates, friends or church want to make a larger donation or sponsor a few kits; please do so here, or contact Mama directly.
Blessings to you and yours. May your life be filled with… light!

Love,
Mama

Lent: It’s Not What You Give Up

Photo source: CatholicFreePress.org

Photo source: Catholic Free Press

While talking to a friend of mine recently, he asked: “What is it that you say to people on Ash Wednesday? I mean, is it Happy Ash Wednesday? Nah, probably not, right?  After all, it’s when you have to give something up… probably not so happy.”  I found the question an interesting one as well as a great reminder of the Joy of the Lenten season.  You see, most people tend to focus on the sacrifice and absence of things that they give up.

If you aren’t Catholic or Orthodox Christian (Copt, Russian or Greek Orthodox, etc.); you might be interested in knowing that Lent is not just about sacrifice.  It is composed of 3 parts in essence: 1- sacrifice, 2- prayer and 3- charity.  Some could read this to mean: 1- quit eating chocolate and have fish sandwiches each Friday 2- go to church on Sundays and 3- drop a few dollars in a donation can for <fill in the blank> charity the next time you see one.  Those people couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’ll skip over the obvious spiritual argument as to why that line of thinking leads you nowhere.  After all, I’m no religious scholar and each person’s faith is their own.  But, it is also clearly flawed logic for another reason: it does what I think we can agree is a silly mistake to make in life: missed opportunity.  Regardless of whom you are and what you believe: this is a 40 day long opportunity to be better and to help others live better in the process.  To dig down deep and do those things we say we’ll eventually get around to, you know?

So, I have been wondering a lot over the past couple of weeks how I could turn this Lenten season into something that benefits Africa.  You see, each year when my children are young, I explain to them that there are really two purposes to the Lenten season.  The first of these is a sense of preparing ourselves through cleansing, prayer and fasting for the great celebration of Easter.  But the second is a matter of using this wonderful opportunity to improve ourselves, our families and our world by creating new habits that we will ultimately make permanent.  Lent offers us an extra chance to create good habits while mutually supporting each other as we do so.  It is always easier to accomplish goals when others are routing for you.

Thus, let’s use this blog as a way to keep a dialog going.  Whether you are Buddhist, Jewish, Agnostic or Baptist… take up the 40 day challenge and let’s talk a bit each day about how we can (each at our own level and in our own way) help Africans live better lives.  I’ll pop in each day to give you a suggestion and to hear what ways you add to the list.  And you can do the same.  Let’s challenge each other, support each other and share our ideas as to what little (or big) things we can do each day… whether those be one-time ways to help or new habits to make… share them here!

After all, Lent isn’t about what you give up… it’s just about what you give, be it prayer, time or talent.  What will YOU give to Africa these 40 days?  What talent do you have that could be of use?  How will you use a few minutes of your time to change a life for the better?  How will you use your resources to bring focus to an area of Africa’s development, challenges or beauty?
I’m really looking forward to your ideas.  And, now that the first day is almost over… just 39 left to go!

Blessings,
Mama

Mama’s After Thanksgiving Sale

Now that you’ve had your fill of turkey, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and laughed at the dinner table with family and friends… its time to head over to Mama’s After-Thanksgiving sale.

It’s true, working through that list of gifts to buy can be stressful for a lot of people and it isn’t always easy to do it while living on a budget.  So, why not take a break from it all, sip some of our delicious Red Bush Tea and listen to your favorite music while browsing through the many items we have discounted (some up to 50%!)  You’ll get to avoid the crowds at the shopping mall AND you’ll be helping some great African women feed their families this holiday season.
Whether you’re getting gifts for Hanukkah, Christmas presents or putting a few things away for Kwanza… you can keep the true spirit of the holiday season because you’ll be giving gifts that give twice: Once to the person you offer them to, and again to the women who make them.  Hey wait, I almost forgot!  You’ll also be giving a built-in donation to our fabulous friends in Rwanda too!  Wow, 3 gifts in 1… who wouldn’t love that?!

 

A portion of all sales from November and December will go to assist our friends in Rwanda who are working to expand the number of women and families that they serve by adding over 500+ women to the already hundreds of women and orphans that they assist!  Although it was initially started to help genocide survivors (primarily women and children) to receive trauma counseling, job training and other forms of direct assistance; they now also help those with or (caring for those with) HIV-AIDS.  As you may know, women are most greatly affected in the HIV epidemic as they are the caretakers in a family.

Mbwira Ndumva is now working on completely renovating a small building so that they can offer additional job training, counseling and other services to those suffering from or caring for family members with HIV.

 

So, this holiday season, we respectfully ask that you remember those who really need you: the women of Rwanda.  You’ll be able to offer a great gift such as our African coffees, chocolates or a beautiful basket PLUS you’ll help a woman in need to provide a better life for herself and her family.  And let’s face it, there really is nothing that feels better than knowing you stepped up to help a woman who is working hard to help herself.  Mama is convinced that sustainable development like this job training program which will lead to more ethical trade in Africa is the only way to permanently alleviate poverty in Africa and to help African children have a better future.

 

Join us in saying “We love you.” through your order or donation.  We won’t end poverty this year; but we sure can work to alleviate it… one order at a time!

 

Our friends at Mbwira Ndumva thank you and so do I.

 

Love,

Mama

Mama’s Math: How to Upgrade to Delicious African (fair trade) Coffee and Save Lots of Money

Coffee is one of my favorite indulgences. I begin every morning with my coffee ritual and I know full well that I’m not alone. Many of you also look forward to that cup of coffee that starts your day.

But, every few months we hear yet again how much we’re spending and how that money could add up to a vacation or home over the years. “Skip that $5 latté and save hundreds”. Listen, I am the last person you’ll meet who will tell you to skip the pleasure that comes with a great cup of coffee! But, as for skipping the daily trip to the coffee shop; well, the math makes sense. Let’s do a simple problem to see:

I’m using a conservative estimate of $4 per cup of latté or other gourmet coffee (many run more than $4). At that price though, your daily cup costs you $1460 per year! Once you have caught your breath, join me for the rest of my math homework… don’t worry, the rest is so much easier to swallow!

Making coffee at home on the other hand costs less than 1/4 the price:

  • Coffee grinder: $15-$20
  • Coffee maker: $30-50
  • Incredible tasting fair trade coffee for a year: $312

_____________
$382 (using highest estimates)

So, you want a fancy latté or mocha? Add the following to your totals:

 

  • Hand-held frother: $12-$15 (FREE if you sign up for our 6 month or 1 year coffee of the month club)
  • Omanhene cocoa: $7.50 (per tin)

At the end of the day, your coffee cost stays the same annually and you only have to “invest” in the grinder, coffee maker and hand-held frother once.

Is it great to save so much money? Of course it is! But, money isn’t everything is it? Sure, it’s great that it only takes about 10 minutes a day (less than the time it takes to wait in line for your coffee). The best part of it all is: FLAVOR!! You will wonder why you waited so long.

Most companies have huge mark-ups on coffee and farmers see very little of the price that you pay. But, since all of our coffees are fair trade, you’ll have the bonus of knowing that you are supporting farmers who are being paid a fair price for their beans. Additionally, you’ll be helping African women and children through the donations that are made to the organizations we work with (a portion of all sales on MamaAfrika.com).

So here are my Top 3 reasons to join Mama’s Coffee of the Month Club:

  1. High quality fresh-roasted coffees (mailed only days after roasting!).
  2. Fair trade (and your built-in donation) means helping the poor live better lives.
  3. You’ll save enough money to treat yourself to something else wonderful (a plane ticket, a couple of incredible dinners or whatever else makes you smile)

Our coop members will thank you (and so will your wallet!)

Q&A: What is a good NGO to donate relief money for Haiti to?

Here is an excerpt from an email I received this morning. I thought I’d share my response in the hope that it would help others as well
“… told me to ask you if you knew of a good NGO to donate relief money for Haiti. Do you have any suggestions?

– HR”

Dear HR,
Thanks for your confidence! As you already know, Mama Afrika doesn’t have any connections personally in Haiti. We hope one day to be able to trade with and assist women in the African Diaspora such as Haiti; but that is a future endeavor. Let’s talk about today.

As is always the case, when major disasters strike like the horrible 7.0 earthquake that hit the island nation of Haiti, it seems that every organization sounds the battle cry and asks for donations. Don’t get me wrong, this is important and necessary in order to get help to those who need it! But, as someone who has worked in the non-profit sector for years before starting Mama Afrika, I feel compelled to warn people of one thing: Big names don’t mean honesty.

It would be my greatest pleasure to tell you that all of the largest non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross had their “clients” at heart when they made decisions. It is sadly, often not the case though. So, please be wary when choosing who to donate to.

I highly recommend that when donating to organizations you look before you leap. Here is a great website which can assist you with that: http://tinyurl.com/yeu83s2 . They and some other organizations like them, rate large non-profits based on their responsible usage of donations. (My personal opinion is that I wouldn’t donate to anyone with less than a 4-star rating. Financial responsibility counts!) We all want our donations’ recipients to be those on the ground, not some well-paid member of management in Washington DC, or New York, right?

We all know about the outrage after so much money was raised by the Red Cross who led people to believe that their donations would be used to help victims and their families after the terrorist bombings on September 11th or hurricane Katrina. History showed us though that there was deception at the very least and outright fraud in the worst case. We’ve also all heard horrible stories of how monies collected for victims of tsunamis, floods, wars, famines, etc. is filtered off by employees or wasted in other ways.

Even the United Nations hasn’t had clean hands in the past. Those of us working with and in Africa know about the disgusting wide-spread scandals where UN humanitarian workers required young girls come to pick up their families food rations so that they could sexually abuse them before handing out their rations.
The world of humanitarian organizations is full of such tales. And although I would love to only focus on the good that they do; it is important that we as donors are responsible to those we are trying to help.

These abuses, both financial and human are the reason that I left the non-profit sector. The large, corporate mentality where people jockey to move up the corporate ladder at all costs was just not for me. I’m called to help the poorest in the world; not to earn a 6-figure salary and treat my job like I would treat any other job in any other industry.

I recommend asking yourself the following questions before donating:
1. Does this organization already do work “on the ground” in the country where the disaster occurred? This will tell you how well networked they are, what kind of contacts and relationships they have on the ground and how your money will be used if they meet their financial need where the specific relief project is concerned. In this case, for example, if the organization raises 2 million dollars more than it needs to provide emergency relief for Haiti; will it be able to use the money leftover in Haiti, or will it go to a general fund for disasters elsewhere… or even worse, to pay for raises for its employees in the US?

2. If the organization already works in Haiti (in this case), what is their “regular work”? Is that something you would fund otherwise? Are they usually in the adoption field and simply fund their orphanages with money they usually raise? Or, do they usually empower the poor through sustainable living projects like fair trade?

3. Do they have clearly defined goals or are they just saying “Help us”? This should give you some idea of how well they are able to meet the needs on the ground.

Sometimes, if you don’t feel completely confident giving during a particular disaster because you see that there is a large outpouring of assistance (relative to the size of the disaster, naturally); you might be just as well to wait.

I know that this is an unorthodox comment and that many will not appreciate it because we are all flooded by the emotions that naturally come with this magnitude of disaster. The photos pull us in and the stories are so heart-wrenching. But, intelligent giving is important. You might want to give to another region of the world, give your time to help in your own community or plan a fund-raising campaign for a cause that is important to you. That is OK too. Giving is what matters: giving of your time, your energy, your prayers and your resources.

Haiti is one of the few places on earth that has it so much harder than even many places in Africa. They might be the oldest Black democracy in the Western Hemisphere; but they haven’t reaped the benefits one might expect from it. Sabotage from the US from their earliest history as well as corruption within Haiti in more recent times has made it one of the most ill prepared places to deal with this tragedy.

You will, therefore have a chance to wait a few months until the dust has settled to find out who was responsible with their donations, what new projects are emerging due to the increased focus on the country and which of those new (or older) projects you want to fund.

I honestly cringe each time I think about the potential that times like this have to cause people to get burned and decide not to give again later. I know how much harder it makes it for those of us who have honestly and sincerely dedicated ourselves to the poor, even when the lights aren’t shining and the news cameras aren’t around.

I just ask that we all take the time to reflect on what our money will really be used for on the ground… instead of giving only to regret it when we hear in 6 months or a year that the money was used in a way we wouldn’t approve of. Again, I would begin by digging deeper and investigating what organizations are translating your dollars to good works, which are going to remain on the ground to help after the immediate emergency situation is helped and which are doing the most to include ordinary Haitians in the process as opposed to sending employees in. I’ve found two through the site I gave you which are listed as 4-star with financial accountability and I’ve noticed that they have long histories in Haiti, employ Haitians for the clean-up (providing at least temporary employment) and have long-term sustainable development programs. I, personally, would donate to either gladly—and have. You can learn more at: http://www.foodforthepoor.org or http://www.hopeforhaiti.com

And, of course, in a few months when the world is calm again: remember those in the world who most need your help and support those who are trying to assist them in living better lives.
Blessings, Mama